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Big service cuts due to Caltrain 'fiscal emergency'

Original post made on Jun 4, 2010

Major Caltrain weekend- and mid-day service cuts plus a fare increase are being planned by this fall and early 2011. Faced with a $12.5 million budget deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, Caltrain's Board of Directors unanimously voted Thursday to declare a fiscal emergency for the second year in a row.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 4, 2010, 11:16 AM

Comments (32)

Posted by Big Jim, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Looks like $1.18M in spending cuts and $3.4M in revenue increases. That's not going to come close to fixing a $12.5M deficit.

Posted by phm, a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Sad. Why is there money for new construction like BART to San Jose and high speed rail but none for operating the transit we already have?

Posted by Chuck, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm

If we can't make a short local public transportation system work how can we expect a project like the high speed rail to be anything but the bottomless pit it is headed for?
A few jobs created by the dole from the federal government now(which of course we pay for in the long run) and for 100 years we will be flushing more money down the drain...agan. Funneling money to a few already rich contractors to make them even richer does nothing for the general population of California.
The high speed rail farce needs to be put on the ballot and reversed. This is a good example of why. We are spending money we don't have on a project that will have minimal use while existing programs that benefit the whole state go begging.
Let's focus on what we have and try and make Caltrain work or shut it down as well. Just like any well run business.

Posted by nunnanp, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm

First layoff these overpaid directors and the other scumbags running Caltrain. That will give enough money to increase the frequence of the service and reduce fare prices so that more people can commute by these trains. What we have is an agency run by the worst thieves paying themselves big salaries and pensions and using very little of the money for the real reason they are intended for. Mountain view city is run by bunch of crooks as well.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Kinda agree with you runnanp, although my primary complaint would be lack of visibility into Caltrain's budget. If you read their annual report, the biggest chunk of money goes to Amtrak, which is the contracted operator of the rail line.

But there is no breakdown in the financial report of what Amtrak is spending the money on. Maybe it's impossible to run the rail line profitably, or maybe Amtrak is just running it unprofitably, but it's hard to tell which without financial reporting and accountability.

Posted by BD, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I hope caltrain can avoid the public transit spiral of doom: schedule cuts make the service inconvenient, so fewer people ride; fewer people ride, so revenue drops; revenue drops, requiring further service cuts; lather, rinse, repeat.

I hope they are able to find a source of permanent funding, even if it's very small. Reducing unpredictability goes a long way in planning.

Posted by Seer, a resident of Willowgate
on Jun 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I propose that only riders of CalTrain and commuters on the parallel freeways should be allowed to make comments on this issue. The nonsense I've seen on here from people like Chuck indicate to me that they're Armchair Administrators with no skin the game.

Transit is not a "business" any more than freeways are. It's a public service whose benefits are not calculated in any cost equation under current practice. So making it "pay for itself" is not possible, any more than it would be if you ran a restaurant next to a soup kitchen that served the same dishes.

Posted by EMale, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

This calls into question the zoning of high-density housing in "transit-oriented" areas. As service drops, people abandon rail travel in favor of their cars. In a high-density area, that means more congestion.

As things stand now, no city or regional government should base zoning decisions on mass transit availability.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 5, 2010 at 8:12 am

Huh? It's unlikely Chuck doesn't have any skin in the game. If he's not a CalTrain rider, he probably travels to work on the freeway, and, if not, he probably pays taxes.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 5, 2010 at 8:12 am

Huh? It's unlikely Chuck doesn't have any skin in the game. If he's not a CalTrain rider, he probably travels to work on the freeway, and, if not, he probably pays taxes.

Posted by Rodger, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 5, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I am wondering why we keep old transit systems going and even start new systems in which fares will not come close to paying the operating costs let alone the cost of construction, repairs, and new equipment. Existing examples include Cal Train, Light Rail, Bart, and the new super money sink High Speed Rail.

Let's at least stop High Speed Rail in in tracks by repealing the proposition 1a which got it stared.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 6, 2010 at 8:01 am


Trains are cool and fun, and possibly help the environment. If you're a voter or politician who only thinks about how cool something is, but not how much it will cost, or whether it will be functional, and, perhaps, a bit naive about the well-documented history of waste and fraud associated with such projects, why not vote for cool trains?

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 7, 2010 at 5:50 am

So they cut local rail while they are trying to suck your tax dollars into a high-speed toy for the elite. Let's kill this High Speed Rail project right now.

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 7, 2010 at 5:51 am

If it can't pay for itself, it shouldn't exist.

Posted by amused, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

Few of you realize that there is virtually no rail line in the world that is profitable, and certainly none in the western world are making any money. Yet they persist. Why? Because governments realize that it is an investment in their societies.

Police, Fire Departments, and national highways are investments in society, too, and they also do not make money. They run 100% in the red. In Chuck's words, "They don't work." Why not get rid of them? Because they're not businesses. Neither is rail.

If all it takes is 12 million dollars to keep CalTrain running the money would be found if this were another government but that doesn't happen since people insist that everything in US be run as a business.

Granted, other western governments are also having deficit problems but almost none of them are near the level of the US. The reason are the two wars, each costing trillions, the massive Bush Tax Cuts that also cost trillions and no one seemed to mind, and the Medicare Part D prescription drug bill, which will cost trillions, that no one ever found a way to pay for.

If this country had simply followed the spending plans that Clinton and the late 1990s Congress had established this country would not be in this situation.

Posted by Steve Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

Seer and amused. I'd agree. Public services do not operate on a simple profit system. But there is also the issue of system efficiency, which Mike Laursen and Seer also touched on. The trains to Gilroy obviously are not efficient - something near $10,000 per year per rider??? The VTA light Rail through the downtown streets of San Jose is obviously bad design (the handy work of Rod D - now of the HSR Authority?) So even public works/service infastructure and operations have to make sense on a dollar basis.

The operations of VTA (bus and light rail) is a county problem. The operation of Caltrain locally is a three county problem. I really support our MV Council stand - if San Mateo Transit is cutting their contributions - eliminate stops in that community first!

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

USA is a registered user.

And yet, they want us to hand the same type of people $43B for HSR.

Posted by le dude, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm

"Granted, other western governments are also having deficit problems but almost none of them are near the level of the US"

I disagree. Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal... just wait and see what happens to those countries in the next year or so. They all have HSR and will be forced to undertake austerity measures

Posted by phm, a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm

All you folks who say trains are businesses that either pay for themselves or shouldn't exist, I'd like to know how road maintenance can pay for itself. Make every road a toll road? Not too practical. America decided roads and freeways are a social good worthy of public support but not trains. If any good can come of the Gulf oil spill, maybe it'll be the revisiting of that decision.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

phm, please see Steve Nelson's comment above. Even if we agreed that passenger railroads should be public utilities and we should expect to subsidize them, that does not excuse the railroad management from the responsibility of competently managing income and expenses.

Posted by John the Man, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 8, 2010 at 11:08 pm

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Caltrain KNEW this day was coming (when other transit agencies would end their subsidies of it), yet they have no plan for it. Not even sketches on a cocktail napkin.

I can't understand how anyone can see such 'management' as anything but gross ineptitude. They KNEW this day was coming yet have no plan except to continue to beg for funds, wring their hands and say, 'Well, now what?'

None of us make a dime from Caltrain and we could have come up with a better plans over beers at the bar.

Public transit is vitally, vitally important to any metro area. And only jackasses like 'Old Ben' would say they should pay for themselves (as if most public agencies like fire, EMS, and police do). But this is something Caltrain has bought. They allowed themselves to be put in the position they are in now.... and they must simply live with it. If that means Caltrain is reduced by 50%, so be it. They made their bed, they have to sleep in it now.

If we're lucky, Caltrain will be dissolved and a better, more competently run rail agency will come out of it. We all deserve better than we've gotten so far. Much better.

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 9, 2010 at 10:08 am

For all you socialists who say morality demands that taxpayers pay for train service, there is a big difference between roads and trains. Everyone uses roads. Only a few yuppies commuting to Frisco use the train. What's next? Is it a moral duty of the taxpayers to pay for free massages for the stressed out yuppies?

Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Castro City
on Jun 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

Drivers pay tax on gasoline, part of which goes to road construction and repair. Bridge tolls pay for bridges. Airport fees and taxes pay for airports. Even rental car taxes pay for transportation costs.

How much is a rider on Caltrain taxed?

Funny how many posters overlooked that one in suggesting we must all pay for a train system that continually looses money.

Posted by Andrew Bachmann, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 9, 2010 at 1:01 pm

curious: you should consider that if the train were to go away, the freeways would become flooded with more cars. Also, those drivers would need to drive to the freeway so the local roads would also have more cars. Having an environmentally reasonable alternative available to avoid this is in all of our best interest.

Taxpayer: keeping those cars off the roads/bridges helps to reduce maintenance and construction costs on those same roads/bridges. So, it's not all a loss when someone rides the train.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Andrew, I'm afraid you have an inflated estimate of how many people ride Caltrain. They could all switch to commuting on the freeway tomorrow, and nobody would notice the difference.

Posted by Andrew Bachmann, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Mike Laursen: my guess was about 40,000 riders. According to a news article from february, the value seems to be between 30-50,000 riders. A safe assumption is more riders on the weekdays during the rush hour, I suppose.

Perhaps someone else could contribute what percent of capacity increase this would represent on parallel freeways.

Posted by Alfred, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Bare fact: On average, 4.62% of people living in MV use Caltrain

Mountain View Population (2000 census)
- Total 70,708
Mountain View Caltrain Average Weekday Ridership (Caltrain 2010 data)
- Total 3,264

Posted by Jack, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 11, 2010 at 12:02 am

Get rid of Caltrain and replace it with a bike path.
Imagine the awesome shape you would be in if you commuted 70 miles to SF and back 5 days a week!

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 11, 2010 at 11:02 am

I actually used to use the gravel railroad bed as a mountain bike path. It was hell on my bike tires, though.

Posted by Andrew Bachmann, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 11, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Since nobody stepped up I did a little more searching. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission the amount of commuters traveling between San Mateo county and neighboring counties is about 135,000 on a daily basis. For Santa Clara county the number of commuters coming from or going to San Francisco or San Mateo counties is about 47,000.

Caltrain's 2010 ridership count from their website shows about 37,000 as the daily ridership, so my guess and rough calculation were quite close. More math indicates that the number of "through" riders (staying on the train at a stop) in San Mateo county varies from a low of 19,389 at south san francisco to 23,492 at San Mateo. In Santa Clara county the number of "through" riders has a high at palo alto of 19,362, decreasing to 14,171 at mountain view (a lot of riders get on and off at mountain view) and continuing to decrease until reaching a county low of 4148 at San Jose diridon. (again a lot of riders get off there)

These numbers would seem to indicate that the traffic impact would be worst in the northern area of Santa Clara, with the inter-county traffic around palo alto seeing a significant bump of about 40%. This number would gradually decrease to about the 85/237/101 junction where more perhaps 5,000 drivers would leave to the shoreline area businesses and also the overall number of local drivers would increase. (drivers within the county)

Although there the number of riders at any stop in San Mateo is higher than it is in any stop in Santa Clara, because there are already so many drivers out there, the percentage impact will be lower. So, I think perhaps it may not be as noticeable if an extra 10-15% cars go out on the roads there. On the other hand, San Mateo already has some of the worst stretches of 101, so perhaps those regions would grow quite larger.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

But do we have any way to know how those 5000 Caltrain riders are distributed throughout the commute day? And how that compares to peak times on the freeway?

Posted by Andrew Bachmann, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Mike, the ridership data on the caltrain website is pretty reasonable with various presentations. The top five northbound trains are 7:45 AM, 8:03 AM, 7:03 AM, 4:45 PM, 6:45 AM. (in decreasing order of ridership) The top five southbound trains are 5:33 PM, 5:14 PM, 8:14 AM, 5:56 PM, and 6:14 PM. (in decreasing order of ridership)

Going by my personal experience, these are pretty close to the freeway busy periods. I don't think there's any reason to believe that caltrain riders would have different hours in general from people who are driving.

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